GROWING UP WITH ROY AND DALE #9
Only one word can describe our summers. Chaotic. Summertime is rodeo time, fair time, personal appearance time, and so instead of family vacations or lazy days on the beach, the Rogers family went on the road. All of us were included in the act.
Weeks before it was time to leave, Mom started making lists. There were lists of the things she had to do, like costume fittings for herself and trips to the tailor for each of us for special fittings for our show clothes. The show clothes had to be shipped about two weeks before we were scheduled for an appearance, so Mom always scratched those chores off her list first.
There were lists for what Dad had to do. There were lists of what to take. All seven of us kids had our own separate lists—two each. One was for show clothes, and the other was for regular clothes.
The lists included everything each person needed, including toiletries like toothbrushes and deodorant. The girls' lists even included the number of bobby pins they could take! Mom also listed the number and color of pairs of socks and underwear, and it was our responsibility to count everything before we left each hotel, so we didn't leave anything in the drawers. As we grew older it became our responsibility to pack our own things, and once everything was packed, we were not allowed to touch any of it. Woe betide the person who tried.
When it was time to leave, we all lined up, and Mom counted noses.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Okay, let's go. Dusty, you take Sandy's hand. Sandy, you take Debbie's. Debbie, you take Dodie's hand. You big girls, you take the little ones."
Then through the airports we would go, along with the other members of the troupe. The wives of some of the men who were part of the show would help ride herd on us, and quiet, shy Mary Jo Rush, the wife of Dad's manager, often ended up with one of the little girls on her lap.
On the airplane it was frantic, and because of the size of our family and the troupe, we about filled it with the Rogers entourage. The stewardesses always did their best to keep things from getting boring. One time a stewardess let Sandy and Debbie deliver the finger sandwiches. I felt slighted, and I stewed about that for 20 minutes. Then Sandy said he was thirsty, and I got a splendid idea.
"I'll go get you a drink, Sandy!" I volunteered. I got up and made my way to the restroom at the back of the air plane. I had a balloon in my pocket, so I squirted some liquid handsoap into it, then hooked it on the water spout and filled it with water. That made bubbles, so I eased them out and wiped the balloon off with paper towels. I made my way back to Sandy and handed him the concoction. "Here, Sandy. It's got pop in it!" He took a big swig, and I thought he was going to burst. Soap bubbles foamed around Sandy's mouth, and he started coughing and choking.
"What's the matter, Sandy?" Dad asked. "Are you all right?"
"Dusty put s-s-soap in my water!" he sputtered, and then he began to wail in a low, moaning voice.
Dad shot out of his seat like a rocket and grabbed me by the back of my neck. He steered me all the way down the aisle to the bathroom, where he blistered my bottom. He was so mad he could hardly speak.
"Do you like—you did a—how could you—that could have made Sandy sick! Soap! Dusty!" he sputtered. "You did a bad thing to your brother, and I'm disgusted with you! Let's see how you like soap." He washed my mouth out with soap and then he dragged me, coughing and crying, back to my seat.
By the time we reached the airport Sandy and Dad had both forgiven me, and we were all friends again. We were met by hundreds of fans and a police escort. We liked that! They took us to our hotel, where we had a suite of rooms.
On days when the opening show was in the evening, Mom would try to get us to take a nap. Other days we did two shows—an afternoon matinee and then the evening performance. Sometimes the little girls would sleep in the late afternoon, but Sandy and I wrestled on the beds and watched television with the big girls. Late in the afternoon Mom made us all wash and dress for dinner. Our rooms looked worse than a disaster movie every day when we left them. No matter how hard Mom tried to keep us orderly, it was impossible. There were too many of us.
While Mom and Dad dressed, we went down to the dining room and ordered. Whenever we could get away with it, we ordered the most expensive things on the menu. Dad always turned red when he saw our plates.
"If you guys don't eat every bite of that," he'd say, "I'm going to cloud up and rain all over you!"
"Think of all those children who are starving in Asia and Africa!" Mom scolded. "Don't you let any of this go to waste." Not that that was a problem—Sandy always made sure of that! When everyone had been served, we said grace and ate dinner. Mom sat between Sandy and me, and Cheryl took charge of Debbie while Mimi took care of Dodie. Dad sat at the other end of the table. Even with that much supervision, the level of noise rose louder and louder, and Mom tried to quiet us.
"If everyone is talking, no one is eating," she said.
When the noise didn't settle, she started singing to shush us. Pretty soon everyone in the dining room was looking at us, and we all fell silent.
"Thank you," Mom said, smiling.
Why do kids do things in public they would never do at home? It's the classic question every parent asks sooner or later, but I think Mom figured it out. She decided it was directly related to her threat, "Just wait 'til we get back to our room!" We acted up in public because we didn't expect her to discipline us in public. We thought wrong. One night at dinner Sandy and I started teasing each other. Mom was sitting between us as usual, and she told us to knock it off. We kept it up, and the rest of the kids were warning us to stop. Suddenly I felt Mom grab a small piece of skin on my leg, just above my knee. I tried to keep quiet, and I was making faces, but Sandy started moaning in that low voice of his, and the more Mom pinched, the louder Sandy moaned. Everyone in the room was staring at him, and he continued to howl. From where we were sitting, no one could see what was bothering him, and Mom just sat there smiling sweetly. By this time I'd begun to whimper, too, and the people kept looking at Sandy and me.
"I told you boys to be quiet," Mom said softly, still wearing her biggest smile, "Now will you be quiet?"
Sandy and I nodded rapidly, the tears rolling down our faces. Sandy kept moaning and kept whimpering. Mom and Dad just smiled and talked to each other in low voices. Fm certain the other dining room customers pitied them for having such an unruly mob of youngsters, but that took care of acting up at the table for the rest of our trip!
After supper we all paraded to the elevator and to our rooms, where we dressed in our show clothes. A flurry of orders always accompanied this ritual.
"Sandy, don't cross your eyes. They'll get stuck that way. Dusty, tuck your shirt in. Be sure to put clean underwear on in case we get in an accident. Line up! Sandy, your boots are on the wrong feet! Dusty, have Mimi help you with your tie. Cheryl, help little Debbie with her boots. Sandy, for heaven's sake, zip your britches!"
At last we were ready. We'd pass inspection, and then it would be time to go. Another police escort took us to the fairgrounds, and we arrived about 45 minutes before show time. Dad and the Sons of the Pioneers went on first, doing their songs and Dad's target shooting. If it was a place with an arena, Dad did a routine with Trigger or with Trigger, Jr. Then Mom joined him, and they sang together and did their routine.
That's a long time for little kids to wait, so there was soda pop for us and other snacks, and the little girls would run around backstage, chasing each other. Sandy and I often got into wrestling matches, and by the time it was our turn to go on stage, we were a mess. Hair mussed up. Zippers undone. Shirts hanging out. Neckties untied. There was always someone to keep an eye on us while Mom and Dad were performing, and they would do a quick fix-up on us just before Mom called us out on stage. We went out one at a time. The big girls sang with Mom and Dad, usually something like "The Bible Tells Me So":
Have faith, hope, and charity That's the way to live successfully How do I know? The Bible tells me so! Be good to your enemies That's the way to live successfully, How do I know? The Bible tells me so! 1
Then the little girls went out. Dodie sang a song with Dad. They called it "Chicky-Whikkie Choctaw." Then Debbie sang "Jesus Loves Me" in Korean. Dad told a story about me, and whether or not it was true didn't seem to matter; the audiences loved it.
"You know, pardners, the Rogers family always goes to church and Sunday School every Sunday morning. The children like Sunday School, but they don't always understand the big messages in the sermons. Last week we went to church, and the minister spoke about the passage in the Bible that says, 'From dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.'
"When we got home from church, Dusty and Sandy were playing in their bedroom, and Dusty noticed some dust under his bed. He came tearing down the stairs.
"'Daddy! Daddy!' he shouted at me. There's somebody under my bed, and I don't know if he's coming' or goin!
Just then Sandy and I ran out, and the whole family sang, "Oh Be Careful Little Hands, What You Do." Debbie had a deep, low voice, and she never learned to sing the words right. She'd sing, "what it do," and really hit the "do" low. Everyone would laugh. On top of that, poor ol' Sandy never could carry a tune, so it was quite a number. We finished off with a patriotic medley of some kind, and at the end Dad sometimes picked Sandy up, sometimes me, and we'd all sing "Happy Trails." Mom had written it in 20 minutes one afternoon when they needed a song for a show. No one realized then that it would become my parents' theme song, or how much it would typify our lives:
Some trails are happy ones, others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts;
Here's a happy one for you.
Happy trails to you until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you 'till we meet again.2
One night, years later, I was doing a show in Ohio, sharing stories about our family, and singing. Dad was watching backstage. When it was time to finish, I told about singing "Happy Trails" in my Dad's arms, and then I started to sing. Suddenly Dad came running out from backstage and jumped into my arms. It brought the house down!
It was always late at night when we finished—the shows lasted about two hours—and we fell into bed as soon as we got back to the hotel. But Sandy always had a hard time at night. The old night terrors continued to plague him. One night, he woke me up about 1:00 in the morning.
"Dusty! There's someone in the room!"
"Oh, Sandy, you're always saying that!" I groaned. "Go back to sleep!"
"No, Dusty. This is real. Listen!"
I sighed and sat up. Sure enough, I heard a rustling sound. "Quick, Sandy, turn the light on!"
Sandy turned the light on just in time to see a bat fly into the other room! Sandy started screaming and ran out into the hall. I grabbed a coat hanger and chased the bat into the other room. I could hear Sandy running up and down the hall outside, screaming.
Suddenly Dad burst into the room. "What in blazes is going on in here?" he bellowed.
"It's a bat, Dad," I shouted.
Dad grabbed the hanger and took care of the bat with it. Sandy was still tearing up and down the hall, and by this time the entire floor was awake. People were standing in their doorways, and the hotel manager and the bell captain had come up. The manager was apologetic about the bat, but I wonder now if he was beginning to question what he had done to deserve the Rogers family at his hotel!
A few nights later we got back to the hotel really late, and Sandy was done in. We all got our pyjamas on and crawled into bed, but somehow in the confusion of so many people, Sandy was overlooked. In the morning when we got up, Sandy was sound asleep in bed, all right, but he was wearing his show clothes. His bed-wetting problem was still with him, and he was soaked. I thought Mom would have a stroke. She peeled Sandy's tailor-made costume off of him and started chasing him up and down the hall, snapping him with his pants.
"Mrs. Rogers! What are you doing? Why are you so mad?" a maid asked.
"Oh, I'm just furious at that boy," Mom panted. "He wore his best clothes to bed last night, and now they're ruined! These are the only good pants he has!"
"If he's still wetting the bed when he's 65," said the maid, "then you can be mad at him. The hotel cleaners can repair the damage and have the clothes ready in plenty of time for this evening's show."
The maid, of course, had no idea of the struggle Mom was having with Sandy's bed-wetting problem. At home, she had purchased one of those mats that sounds an alarm and sets a bright light off at the first hint of moisture. The first night it woke Sandy up, all right. After that, he slept right through it, and the rest of the household woke up instead. Mom had also tried a reward system. If he stayed dry, she gave him a present. It didn't work. She tried shaming him. She tried getting him up every two hours. She prayed. She took him to doctors, specialists, urologists. She tried pills and other medicinal mixtures. She asked everyone she could ask about how to help Sandy. One day in Chatsworth some carpenters were doing some work on the house, and Mom got to talking with the contractor.
"You ought to do what my mom did," the contractor told her. "It's an old country remedy."
"I'm ready to try anything," Mom said.
"Okay! Catch a little field mouse, and skin it. Make a little stew out of it, and feed it to the boy. He'll never wet the bed again! My mother tried it with me, and it broke me of the problem!"
Mom was horrified. "You're kidding! I could never do such a thing!"
Betty, the housekeeper, had overheard the conversation. "I could do it, Mrs. Rogers!" she said. "It really is an old country remedy, just like the man said. It works!"
That Mom should give in to such an idea is proof of her desperation. Poor Sandy was so humiliated by his problem, and she was so tired of all the laundry, she simply wanted him free from it forever.
Later that week Betty set a trap and caught a field mouse. She made a succulent stew out of him, and Leola made stew that night for the rest of us. No one cracked a smile, but Sandy raved about the stew—he didn't know his was any different. He wet the bed again that night. Mom felt awful. After that, she began to accept Sandy's problem with bed-wetting, and she tried not to be impatient with him. Sandy continued to be a bed-wetter, and even after he was in the Army, he got up before reveille every morning and made his bedroll so no one would know. Since then, Mom has come to understand that Sandy's problem was connected with his brain damage. She's worked hard at forgiving herself for the mistakes she believes she made in dealing with this particular handicap.
But in the meantime there were the nights on the road, and the accidents, and like any normal human being, Mom sometimes lost her cool about it. After the incident with the show clothes, she resolved again to accept what she couldn't change and to change what she could. From then on, she made sure we all left our show clothes at the fairgrounds.
In the mornings after the shows, we all ate breakfast in the hotel dining room while the hotel maids tried to make some kind of order out of the chaos in our rooms. After breakfast it was time to connect with our police escort again, and we spent the day visiting newspaper offices, hospitals, orphanages, and attending luncheons, special presentations and other publicity stuff. There were always photo sessions.
Cheryl loved the photo sessions because she was so much into her part: "the daughter of .... " Linda often cried because she hated to have her picture taken, and I sometimes made faces. The rest of the kids seemed to take it in stride, even though it sometimes seemed like we spent most of the summer in front of the camera. In the background people said things like, "Oh, aren't they cute!" and "How do you suppose she manages?"
Mom and Dad kept tight security on us. Even though the problem of child stealing did not appear to be as widespread then as it is today, Mom and Dad had never forgotten the tragic kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. They knew that children of public figures can be especially vulnerable. If it looked like the crush of people could endanger us, we were kept away from the show. At the rodeos there were plenty of things to see, like riding contests, and there were carnival rides and exhibits, but we were not allowed to wander off by ourselves. We were always supervised by adults. It was fun sometimes, but most fairs and rodeos are alike, and it got old mighty fast.
To be fair to us, Mom insisted that we be paid wherever we performed. She reminded the people in charge that we had to have special clothes and that we had to be made up for two performances each day. She never used our money to cover those costs, though. Instead, she banked it. Each of us had our own savings account, but we weren't allowed to touch it until we were old enough for our first major purchase. Mom told us we could use it for a car or for furthering our education, and I think we all used our show money for our first cars.
One time we were at a state fair, and Dad was really feeling the need just to relax and enjoy himself. The parade officials helped him into a fireman's uniform, and the make-up people made him up with a mustache and a beard so he could go out unrecognized. It didn't work. Perhaps he said something or started humming, or maybe it was the way he carried himself. Perhaps it was his boots. Whatever it was, people began to recognize him, and he was soon swamped with autograph seekers.
Every summer held a different adventure for us. One year we played the Wisconsin State Fair, and it rained and rained for five straight days. The weatherman said it rained nine inches during those five days, and the streets were flooding.One afternoon we were on stage singing "California, Here I Come!" There was a big overhead tarp to protect us from the weather, and every three or four minutes the stage hands would push up on the tarp to make the water run down the sides. Right in the middle of the song we heard a tearing sound. The tarp gave way under the load of water, which poured down on the orchestra behind us. All the sheet music went flying all over the stage.
Most of the time, though, it was monotonous, and one day Dad decided Sandy and I needed a diversion. Mom didn't like the idea, but Dad overruled her and bought us four male white rats. He said it would be good for us to take care of them. We kept them in a little bird cage. Sandy and I enjoyed them. We'd sneak them into the hotel rooms, and they kept us busy during the long waits between acts. But one day we noticed that two of the rats were getting really fat.
"You have to stop feeding them so much, boys," Dad explained. "Are you sure the other two are getting their share?" We were sure.
Finally it was time to go back home. We packed up and headed for the airport. By that time it was obvious that our two overweight rats were females, and Sandy and I didn't want them to go in the luggage hold. We put the females in one shoe box and the males in another, and we poked pinholes in the boxes so they could breathe. We carried them on the plane with us. Somewhere over the Rockies both of those rats decided to give birth. The babies all started squeaking, and whenever the stewardess came down the aisle for anything, Sandy and I started making squeaking noises so she wouldn't get suspicious. When we got on the plane that day we had four rats. When we got off, we had 32.
We always arrived home from the summer tour after school started. I hated that, because it meant always being the new kid at school, year after year. The September after Mom and Dad pulled us out of the military school was no exception, and this time, it almost seemed worse. Mom and Dad decided to try us out in public school again.
Written by Dale Evans. Used by permission.
"Happy Trails," by Dale Evans. Used by permission.
TO BE CONTINUED